September 30, 2014
As a young entrepreneur in a college town, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with a lot of professors and mentors from older generations about how they view our generation, the Millennials, as we’re usually called. Contrary to what you might think, most of the feedback is actually pretty positive. People from the Boomer and Gen X generations admire our tenacity, appreciate our creativity, and understand our desire for freedom.
Here’s the catch: with those good qualities come others that turn them off big time. That creates a problem for us because no matter how independent we are, we’ll still have to work with them. They will be our bankers, insurance agents, bosses, investors, and – most likely – one day our clients. We need to know how to relate to them as much as they need to know how to relate to us.
After a few conversations with my older peers, I have whittled down their advice to five bits of wisdom. Here are a few things that “old” people say they want from us:
1. Humility: They know that we’re smart, but they also have years of experience that we don’t have regarding business matters (and life). Yes, they still may have trouble figuring out technology that’s second nature to us, but they know what they’re talking about when it comes to many other subjects. Plus, they might resent a know-it-all who doesn’t want to climb the ladder like they did. They started at the bottom and worked their way up; some still are doing that. They know that we are passionate, driven, and creative. The fact is that they are, too (they just express it differently). Even if they know that we won’t start at the bottom like they did, there’s no reason to rub that in.
2. Face-to-Face Interaction: Our older peers know that each one of us grew up with a screen in our face (they’re probably the ones who gave them to us!), but they don’t want to hear that as an excuse for lack of social interaction. Put down the phone for five minutes, unplug the headphones, and engage in a conversation. Listen to them. They’ll feel like they’re teaching you something. You may be surprised when they do.
3. Gratitude: After your face-to-face interaction, you need to let them know that their time was well spent. Gen Xers and Boomers live hectic lives and are short on time. They value what little time they have and want you to value it too. Thank you notes [Read my recent blog post about this] – or even thank you emails – are very important to them and will score you big points.
4. Effort: They’ve put a lot of time and effort to get to where they are and want to ensure that you do the same. If you’re interviewing for a job, research the company and the people interviewing you. Polish your resume by checking for errors, grammatical mistakes, and misspellings. Dress up, smile, and look happy. Appear like you’re eager to learn. Boomers, and especially Gen Xers, are cynical, stressed, overworked, and tired. You are what they were 20 years ago. Put on a fresh face and show them that you are willing to work…maybe not at their pace or under the same conditions that they work, but you’ll still give it 100%.
5. Professionalism: Look and behave like a grown up. No, this does not mean that you have to wear a suit or disable your social media accounts. However, you do have to look polished and respect yourself. This will make them respect you, too. Plus, they’ll be more willing to hire you if they are confident that their clients won’t find pictures of you funneling beer at a frat party. After all, they may not be as tech savvy as you are, but they still know how to do basic research. And even if they don’t know how, you can bet that their kids do. Speaking of kids, they really dislike it when we sound like theirs. If you speak too quickly or use terms that they don’t understand, then they can’t keep up. If they can’t keep up, then they’re less likely to work with you. Remember, they want colleagues, not more kids.
I’ve learned a lot more, but these five points are the bulk of it. If you take just a little bit from each and apply it, you probably will be amazed by the results. Knowing all of this and using it to my advantage on the job when interacting with colleagues or clients has helped me tremendously. Heck, I wish I knew this when dealing with my professors in college. It would have helped a lot.
Are there any other lessons that you’ve learned from older generations? What feedback have you received from your older advisors? I would love to hear about your experiences and see how they compare to mine.
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